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In 1976, Saint-Etienne saw off the likes of Rangers, Dynamo Kyiv and PSV Eindhoven to set up a European Cup final clash with Gerd Muller's Bayern Munich at Hampden Park in Glasgow.
Facing a team that featured Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Uli Hoeness and “Der Bomber” Gerd Muller, Les Verts, understandably, started the game as stark underdogs.
They were on their way to securing their third straight French league title but Osvaldo Piazza, Jean-Michel Larqué and Jacques Santini weren't expected have much chance against the German giants.
The events of the match would go down in history. Ask any Stephanois fan who is old enough to remember and you may bring them to tears. With the game level, Dominique Bathenay embarked on a dazzling jinking run before smashing a 25-yard shot fizzing towards goal. With Sepp Maier beaten, the ball crashed off the underside of the crossbar, it bounced out and 20,000 Sainté fans couldn't quite believe what they had seen.
Hampden, for almost 80 years, had installed square goalposts, the poteaux carres almost certainly stopped Bathenay's shot crossing the line. They should have been 1-0 up and playing with the equipment we do today, they would have been. It says a lot for Saint-Etienne as a club that they have part of the offending goal in their club museum.
If once wasn't enough, it happened again. Santini's near post header hitting the underside of the bar and falling to safety. Made to rue those missed chances, the Germans would find the net on the 57th minute after Muller was brought down in the box, Franz Roth dispatched the spot kick.
Bayern would win the final 1-0 and 40 years later Saint-Etienne have yet to recover. They would finish fifth and seventh in the league following that defeat. Michel Plantini's unforgettable ability brought them back to prominence, sealing the title again in 1981. They would also reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup that season. 35 years later that remains their best campaign to date.
Once Platini left for Juventus, Les Verts dropped to the second division. It took two seasons to get back to the top flight, but Saint-Etienne have never finished higher than fourth since their return. What is still amazing, when you factor in clubs like Olympique de Marseille, the amazing Olympique Lyonnais side of the late 90’s and Paris Saint-Germain’s current domination, Les Verts are still one of the most successful team in French football history.
They have won 10 league titles, six Coupe de France trophies and one Coupe de la Ligue. That league cup came in 2012/13 under Christophe Galtier. That single success is the only thing stopping them going 35 years’ trophy-less.
From the heights of being France’s most decorated teams, the club have dropped to the second division three times. Their recovery wasn’t instant, going from sixth to 13th, to fifth, then finishing 17th twice from 2008 to 2010. It was safe to say the club was in a mess.
Galtier took over control in 2009, taking the place of former Portsmouth coach Alain Perrin, when he was sacked in December. Although the defender played for Marseille and Lille, he quickly gained a reputation and respect from the Saint-Etienne faithful.
Playing at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Les Verts, despite their lack of recent success, can call upon one of the most ferocious home supports. The stadium holds just over 41,000, newly renovated for Euro 2016, they may be averaging around 24,000, but when PSG or bitter rivals Lyon come to visit, le Chaudron is rocking. There are no better atmospheres in France when a huge game is on the line, and that’s despite a lack of success. You can only imagine the feeling around the Loire club when they were on top.
After 2010, success was measured much differently than back in the 1970s and 80s, and Galtier began to build something. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signed initially on loan, but when made permanent he scored 35 goals in two seasons. After gaining a reputation for bringing through the likes of Blaise Matuidi and Bafetimbi Gomis, that 2013 team was a perfect storm for Les Verts.
Brazilian veteran Brandao led the line, flanked by the tricky Yohan Mollo and Aubameyang. In midfield, just like the man he replaced, Josuha Guilavogui was the all-action box-to-box player. At the back they also called upon the exceptional young centre-back Kurt Zouma.
That team would finish as high as fourth before all profitable stars were sold off and they had to begin the rebuilding process once again. Due to the nature of modern football and the way top talent is picked off, you only have to look at names like Allan Saint-Maximin and Zouma to see that any top players they develop, won’t be allowed to stay more than a couple of years.
PSG now dominate French football and with money ruling everything, it’s hard to see anyone, especially Saint-Etienne changing that in the near future. Other clubs are looking more marketable to investors and with Marseille, Lyon and AS Monaco in the loop, the stark truth is that it could be another 35 years until they realistically get their hands on the title once more.